There are many things that the country might expect to happen in the coming months. A general election, leadership challenges, Brexit deals ranging from Norway to Canada, a People’s Vote - there are any number of potential outcomes. But none have occupied the collective consciousness quite as much as the looming spectre of ‘no deal’
The bookies tell a stark story: we're told that the chances of crashing out are as high as 50%. But while it suits Theresa May to increase the perceived risk of ‘no deal’, it is unreasonable to expect it, cowardly to countenance it, and a mistake to treat it as the only alternative to the government's plan.
Call it what you will – ‘no deal’, crashing out, a WTO-Brexit, “doomsday” - it will be a disaster. Young people could lose as much as £108,000, between now and 2050, relative to staying in the EU.
But it suits the government to suggest that ‘no deal’ is a feasible outcome of this process.
The threat of ‘no deal’ will be used as a cudgel to browbeat MPs into accepting whatever pale shadow of the Chequers deal emerges at the end of the process. MPs with the guts to stand up and reject this contrived choice - frying pan or fire - will be accused of dicing with the future of the country.
They will be charged with frustrating the "will of the people", threatened with the burden of the blame for a botched Brexit, and castigated for their purported irresponsibility.
And why? For making a principled decision. For putting their country first and saying, bravely, that Britain deserves better than this grubby choice that is no choice at all.
It is bound to be grubby, too. One rebel has already predicted that the whips will pull out all the stops. A potent combination of time pressure and Project Fear 2.0, carrots (knighthoods and lashings of cash for local projects) and sticks (blackmail and blacklists) will tighten the screws in the Palace of Westminster considerably.
But the underlying fundamentals still hold: neither the Government nor the EU wants us to crash out.
Both sides would suffer. And the only people who would benefit are the ideologues on the hard right of the Conservative party, who rub their hands in glee at the thought of a deregulated and billionaire-friendly post-Brexit Britain.
In order to avoid this, the Prime Minister's game plan is surely simple. Project Fear 2.0, free from the spending strictures of a referendum campaign. Simply allow business warnings to continue, send out her cabinet troops to spread the word that the country is heading for impending doom. The only way out, the narrative will go, is to support her deal.
But if this (dis)United Kingdom stands on the brink come March, it is inconceivable that there would not coalesce at high speed a majority, both in Parliament and in the internecine structures of the EU, for an extension of Article 50.
Arcane parliamentary instruments could force the government’s hand, as pointed out by George Eaton. And the EU has a remarkable ability to pull off last minute miracles in negotiations.
The whispers of a second referendum have by now grown into a roar - a roar that demands a People's Vote. MPs should take notice. For the sake of the country, they must reject the choice forced on them, stand up, and do the right thing.